Denmark: The Danish family connection that lives on

 

 

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This week I said goodbye to my grandfather, Donald Forrest. He was my father’s father and was just six months away from marking his centenary. He lived a very full and interesting life which included service in the British Royal Navy during World War II.

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Some of the medals awarded to my father, grandfather and great-grandfather

Grandpop was involved in the D-Day landing, supporting Allied troops on Gold Beach just before they went on to take the town of Arromanches in Normandy. It was during D-Day that my grandfather managed to escape serious injury after the boat he was sailing on was blown up by a mine. I feel rather proud of one of his missions that day, which was to take supplies of whisky and gin ashore for the troops!

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Members of the British Royal Legion at Grandpop’s Thanksgiving service in Kemerton

We were all very touched when members of the Royal British Legion and the Sea Cadets came to pay their respects to Grandpop this week, at Kemerton Church near Tewkesbury. The Last Post was a particularly poignant moment.

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My grandmother, Joan Forrest

But what I think was so special about Grandpop was his utter devotion to my grandmother, Joan. In her thirties, she was paralysed down one side of her body. To this day, no-one is quite sure why or how it happened. Granny lived until she was 89, and over that time, my grandfather was by her side every painful step of the way. I think it’s the most incredible story of love and devotion.

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My grandparents, Donald and Joan Forrest, in Denmark in 1953

Among those who also came to say goodbye this week was my grandparents’ niece, Christina, known as Krisi. She’s half Danish because her father (Granny’s brother, Bobby Lowein) married a Danish woman called Karin. In fact, while we were going through some old family photos we stumbled across a picture from the 1950s of my grandparents in Dyrehaven (The Deer Park) near Klampenborg in Denmark. It’s a just a couple of miles away from where my family now lives and it’s a place we regularly visit.

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My great uncle, Bobby Lowein, and Karin, on their engagement in Copenhagen

Sadly my great uncle and aunt’s marriage wasn’t to be, and after three children, including Krisi, it ended in divorce. Karin remarried, but in an avalanche on New Year’s Day in 1979 in Switzerland, she was killed. So too was her son, Nicholas Lowein (Krisi’s brother), Karin’s second husband, Michael de Pret Roose, and the Swiss guide and friend, Ernst Renner. It was a tragedy that completely shook the family and one which is still difficult to comprehend.

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Cousin Krisi Williams with her husband Richard in Copenhagen, 2016

34 years later (2013) and my husband and I find ourselves moving to Denmark. Krisi put us in touch with one of her mother’s sisters, Inga Peetz. Inga has been extremely kind to us. When she visited us in our apartment in Hellerup, she was convinced she’d been there before. She had – decades before, when her uncle owned the entire house!

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Inga with her other sister, Killer, in Denmark, 2013

Inga has also introduced us to members of her family, who I like to claim as distant relatives! Among those are her nieces, Camilla and Rikke, who now babysit for our children and have also become friends.

My biggest regret is that my grandparents were never able to visit us in Denmark and meet the wonderful Danes we have been so fortunate to know. But I like to think that both Granny and Grandpop are looking down on us smiling, delighted at the relationships we have forged with members of their own family.

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My father, Christopher Forrest, sailing in Denmark in the 1970s.

NB I’m very conscious of the fact that this family history would be much easier to write in Danish. Not because I am an expert, but because the Danes have more useful names for family. So my Grandfather Donald – my father’s father – is called Farfar. Isn’t that so much easier to understand? I could really do with a family tree to make it easier for you to see the connections. But I do hope you get the gist!

Baby Cecelia at 6 months old

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Cecelia at 6 months old

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Cece showing off her pilates moves

Today, my daughter is 6 months old. How did that happen? Where has the time gone? Well it certainly hasn’t been wasted, but apologies that it hasn’t been spent blogging! I have missed this therapy of writing and sharing my thoughts (mostly about life in Copenhagen) with you all. So I thought I’d give you a quick update on how beautiful Cecelia, who was born on 9th May in Denmark, is doing.

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Enjoying a moment with smiley Cece

As you can see from the photos she is thriving. She’s a wonderful companion and full of smiles and laughter.

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Charlie and Cece chillaxing!

Her brother, Charlie, who was a little reticent about having a sister, is pretty smitten. And that fact that she finds almost everything he does hilarious, certainly helps.

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Cece swimming at 6 weeks

Cece’s life has been busy. Thanks to my swimming teacher, she had her first lesson when she was just six weeks old. As you can see she was pretty relaxed about it.

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Great-grandpa George (aged 101) with Charlie, Cece and me

She’s not only met both sets of grandparents, but also her 101-year-old great-grandfather and 95-year-old great-grandmother. Very touching moments.

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Cece with Nick (her father), Annabel (her grandmother) and Rene (her great-grandmother)

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Cece with her Granny Celia (my mum)

She’s already appeared in print, in an article that I wrote for Your Danish Life Magazine and on Instagram, thanks to a post from the he English-language book shop in Hellerup, Books and Co.

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Things are getting very busy for us as a family. Next month we will sadly be leaving wonderful Copenhagen and heading off to Berlin. It’s another adventure for us all but a lot of change. Here’s hoping the next six months of Cecelia’s life are as amazing as the first.

Baby Cecelia is born in Denmark

 

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Charlie and Cecelia. Photo: Fun Love Photography

Five weeks ago, our beautiful daughter, Cecelia, was born at Herlev Hospital, outside Copenhagen. Her arrival has been long awaited and we are delighted that our Danish adventure has also brought a new life into the world.

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Charlie meets Cecelia for the first time

She is six years younger than her brother, Charlie. He has been wonderful – despite wanting a brother! It’s lovely watching them together – already she responds to his voice and presence.

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

My experience of giving birth here in Denmark couldn’t be more different from back in London. This time I had a c-section, after a ‘traumatic’ natural birth at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, in 2010. I won’t go into the detail but suffice to say the whole experience was stressful and involved me going back into hospital six weeks later to have an operation under general anaesthetic, followed by countless procedures.

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Cecelia at 8 days old

This time round, there was no hesitation about me having a cesarean. It meant we knew the delivery date and were able to have family out here to look after our son. Once in hospital, my husband and I had our own room in the Patient Hotel, next door to our own bathroom and close to the canteen. We quickly realised that Nick had to stay with me because there simply aren’t enough staff to deal with patients who need help moving and walking. This may be a highly taxed country, but like elsewhere, resources are tight. Anyway, I was very grateful that he was with me throughout.

The delivery itself was extremely professional and very quick. The Danish staff all spoke perfect English and couldn’t have been more pleasant. I was particularly pleased that one of the doctors was called Cecelia. Despite the horrendous pain I suffered following the c-section, it was very straight forward.

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

Like her brother, we quickly realised that Cecelia was tongue tied (which is very painful for breast feeding mothers). Unfortunately doctors at Herlev refuse to perform the simple procedure to snip the frenum that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. So when she was just 18 hours old, my husband bravely left hospital with her, drove to a clinic in another town where they performed the procedure. It was not an ideal situation.

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Cecelia in hospital

Our baby then lost weight and developed jaundice, both of which are very common in newborns. But the staff were worried and we were moved from our room, upstairs into what can only be described as a broom cupboard. We had no window or running water and had to walk through another family’s room to get to ours. My poor husband had to sleep on a padded bench and wasn’t allowed to leave me alone. It was a difficult 48 hours. But thankfully, five days after giving birth, we were finally allowed home.

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On the beach at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør

Danish friends say the second half of our hospital experience is more common in Denmark than you might think. But overall, I found giving birth here much better than in South West London. We’ve also been extremely lucky to have a wonderful health visitor, Kirsten, from Gentofte kommune (our local council) who is always ready to help or offer advice via phone or text. Staff at our local doctors’ surgery have also been supportive.

So now our family of three has become a family of four, and things are noisier in our house (especially at night!). But boy, do we all love our little girl!

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

With thanks to Heather Davidson-Meyn at Fun Love Photography for the great photos.

 

Denmark: Why this small country thinks big when it comes to children’s creativity

Charlie working hard on his collage

Charlie working hard on his collage

Denmark ‘gets’ children – and I don’t just mean childcare. Go to any museum or art gallery in this Scandinavian country and it’s geared up for kids. From exhibitions to children’s activities, little people matter here and it’s a joy to watch.

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This weekend, my husband, son and I visited Statens Museum for Kunst, the National Gallery of Denmark here in Copenhagen. It’s free to get in and is currently showing an exhibition which focuses on what home means to children. It includes a large instillation made up of packing boxes, behind which you find a video wall showing various moving images like bubbles.

Charlie's piece on the children's collage

Charlie’s piece on the children’s collage

But even before you get to this part, the gallery screams welcome. High ceilings, lots of space, no clutter. Charlie, aged 4, loves sitting in a caravan that’s on display (with a title that isn’t quite so child friendly: F**k the Danish Police). On Sunday he climbed down the marble steps and at the bottom found an open art class. We were given glue, hand painted paper and scissors and as the theme was collage, we were encouraged to give it a go. It’s creativity at its best and he loves it (as do we).

Charlie enjoying the home exhibition

Charlie enjoying the home exhibition

There’s also a children’s art centre here and on a previous occasion we paid a small fee to make a robot out of foam and wire and get covered in paint. Oh, and the food in the restaurant is delicious for all the family.

Charlie at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Charlie at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Travel north of Copenhagen and you come to one of my most favourite museums in the world – Louisiana. Adults have to pay an entrance fee but this museum of modern art is designed with family in mind. The art exhibitions are always a must, the restaurant serves great food and the area outside is perfect for a picnic, walk or hill rolling. As for the views, they’re simply spectacular.

Painting eggs at Louisiana

Painting eggs at Louisiana

But it’s the children’s wing at Louisiana that has encouraged us to buy annual membership. As soon as we walk in, Charlie is off to find the area that’s designed especially for him. Whether it’s sculpting from clay, painting, or playing with yellow lego bricks, this centre, spread over three floors, is a child’s paradise.

Lego at Louisiana

Lego at Louisiana

It’s not just here though. Take the Post & Tele Museum in the centre of Copenhagen. I love this place, and not only because it’s free! The exhibitions themselves are both fascinating for adults and interactive for children. My favourite part, however, is the area where you can design your own stamps and then take a sheet of them home – at no cost at all. Best of all there’s a play zone with four big slides for kids to enjoy. For those children who prefer a quieter atmosphere, the museum has built a little cardboard village in the same area, complete with shops and of course a post office. And as you’d expect there’s a wonderful restaurant located at the top of the building, complete with views of Copenhagen’s dreaming spires. So thank you Denmark for making it so easy for families to be creative. Other countries could learn a lot – I hope they will.